This is a perfect movie about a perfect crime. But it's the thugs that must beware. The movie trailer made it seem like this was a simple movie about revenge and vigilanteism, but it's more about what tragedy can do to someone, or how we can slowly watch ourselves transforming in a bad direction. How do we get back? Can we get back? As a Vietnam vet friend said: "They teach you to shut off your emotions in war, but they never teach you how to turn them back on again." Of course, with the grace of God, anything is possible, but aside from a cross around her boyfriend's neck, Erica Bean (the incomparable, wow, how-does-she-do-it Jodie Foster) is on her own.
She has the perfect profession for her character: one of those NPR-style audio-chroniclers. She walks around her beloved NYC during the day, recording its more innocent sounds and editorializing about them on her radio show, until violent crime shatters her life, her dreams, her future and her love. She meets Detective Mercer (the Zen-like, ordinarily elegant Terrence Howard of the beautiful eyes), who is working on the case of her boyfriend's murder AND her own subsequent violent crimes, unbeknownst to him. He listens to her show. He has murderous thoughts of his own. It's a tight entertwining, and the love-interest between them is a very believable slow burn. Mercer is incredibly kind and tactful with what is actually his prey in this cat and mouse game.
This is an extremely visual film (as all films are s'posed to be). We watch Erica change through her slightest facial twitches, her mouth open in horror, her Lady Macbeth hands, the way she smokes her cigarette, her eyes-become-angry-slits. We feel her utter powerlessness and vulnerability until we actually become afraid for every person she meets, baddie or not.
Director, Neil Jordan ("The Crying Game," "The End of the Affair"), has a perfect pace (notice how many times I'm using the word "perfect"?) and almost what I would call a feminine sensibility--maybe because he has the uncanny ability to put himself in the shoes of his anti-heroine. I've truly never felt such a steady pace in a film. It was fascinating to watch how everyone assumed Erica's crimes were committed by a man. And it was a twist to see a female killer who's not a psycho. The simple, clean (yet not minimalistic) camera work makes "The Brave One" more of a drama than a flashy, special effects psychological thriller.
This movie raises so many questions: How do we help the victims of violent crimes? What do we do when fear turns into rage? What do we do when someone uses violence as therapy? Was Erica's bloodlust finally quenched? If so, how could Mercer be sure? Would anyone really buy their story? Wouldn't the truth eventually come out? What if the girl with the big hair and big earrings talked? Although messy as in "bloody," the ending was too neat. It was clever, dare I say "entertaining"? But one senses that, despite the ethereal strains of Sarah McLachlan, it's not over. Violence begets violence, and crime never pays. Does true peace come from violence? Just how does one love one's real, vicious enemies? Evil is evil, and it's always very, very sad and tragic, even when it happens to the scum of the earth.
It was a struggle not to cheer Erica on and take delight in her almost compulsive deeds, but I managed to keep my morals. The ending reminded me of another fine film, "Dinner Rush," where ordinary, decent folks float above the law, quietly take care of business, and keep the streets clean. How can I praise these films? Because they are so well executed, and speak to a truth about human nature, albeit fallen human nature, and I can appreciate a film without agreeing with its presumed message or "side" it comes down on. Anything or anyone that I disagree with forces me to dig deep and dust off and oil my reasons and convictions to make sure they still work. In the case of "The Brave One," they still do.